What exactly are we talking about when we talk about mass media?
Well, we're talking about the dissemination of information, or how information is transmitted within a culture.
And this can include print media, like books, newspapers, and magazines, as well as digital media, like TV, movies, radio, and the internet.
Exactly how this media is consumed changes across cultures and age groups.
For example, my grandmother gets a lot of her information about current events through TV and newspapers, but I primarily get this information online.
And when we look at mass media, we can look at the role it plays in our society through different sociological perspectives.
So according to the functionalist view, one of the most important functions of mass media is to provide entertainment.
So it's meant to occupy our leisure time.
But the functionalist view also says that mass media can also act as an agent of socialization and an enforcer of social norms.
It presents a standardized view of society and provides a collective experience for members of that society.
Think about the shared experience of watching the Olympics on television, or being with a group of people to see a movie on opening night.
Mass media also functions to bring people together.
And there are entire internet-based communities that are focused on things like LGBT rights or childcare.
Or fans of music groups that sing songs about Harry Potter.
But mass media can also tell us about what society expects of us through what it rewards and punishes.
So when we hear something about criminal behavior from mass media, it is often talked about in terms of bringing criminals to justice.
Which reinforces the idea that criminal behaviors are bad and should be avoided.
However, the media can sometimes also glorify behaviors that society as a whole would deem to be wrong.
Things like intense physical violence.
Mass media also functions as a promoter of consumer culture.
At the turn of the century, the average U.S. child saw 20,000 commercials a year on TV.
And that doesn't include ads on the radio or billboards or signs in front of stores announcing 50% off sales.
And it's only increased from there.
And it's not necessarily clear what kind of an impact this might have on the next generation.
The conflict view focuses on how the media reflects and portrays, and may even exacerbate, divisions that exist within our society.
Like divisions based on race, ethnicity, gender, or social class.
Conflict theory uses the term gatekeeping to describe the process by which a small number of people and corporations control what material is being presented on the media.
It describes how information, so things that appear in our newspapers, the stories that are made into movies, what TV shows are turned into pilots.
It describes how these things move through a series of gates before they can reach the public.
In some countries, this might be controlled primarily by the government.
But for others, it's decided primarily by large media corporations.
Gatekeeping can also have more of an effect on some media than others.
For example, a lot of control is put on what big-budget movies are made, but there is very little overhead control of what gets posted online.
The conflict theory also describes how mass media often reflects the dominant ideology.
Giving time and space, or privileging, certain social, economical, and political interests, while sometimes actively limiting other views.
The people who make the choices about what media is produced, the gatekeepers, are predominantly white, male, and wealthy.
And as a result, stories representing the views of racial minority groups, women, LGBT individuals, and working class people are typically underrepresented.
And because of this divide, portrayals of minority groups can often be stereotyped, or guided by unrealistic generalizations about a certain group of people.
And while some corporations have taken the steps to try to improve this, they sometimes take it in the wrong direction, which results in tokenism instead of actual diversity.
Or cases where a single minority member is added to a TV show or movie as a stand-in for that entire group.
Feminist theory's understanding of mass media is similar to what we would see in conflict theory in that it also holds that mass media stereotypes and misrepresents society towards the dominant ideology.
Specifically, it focuses on the way that messages about men and women are represented in the media.
It notes that women are often underrepresented in media content, that men are often considered normal while women are considered to be other.
Think about ads for products.
We have razors and razors for women.
Pens and pens for her.
Depictions of men and women are often highly stereotyped, enforcing strict gender roles and emphasizing traditional sex roles.
So women are more often portrayed as victims and men as aggressors.
And women are much more likely to be depicted as shallow or being obsessed with looks, which also makes it more likely that they'll be sexualized and objectified.
The interactionist perspective looks at mass media on the micro level to see how it shapes day to day behavior.
It looks at how mass media blurs the line between solitary and group activities.
So think of the act of seeing a movie.
You may be watching it with other people, but because of societal norms or even theater rules, you are actually forbidden from talking about the movie with the people you're with.
It also looks at the fact that how we connect with other people using media tends to change over time.
So whereas before I might have called my grandparents to keep in touch with them, now I can talk with them via email, or even text message.
The rate at which people meet romantic partners online has also increased, which is something that probably would have seemed very confusing to just a few generations before ours.